Saturday, April 01, 2006

Zipping those lips...

There are so many things I'd like to write about school from which I must refrain in the interest of self-preservation, at least until I'm far enough from the city that I have a head start on the mob. However, this one's too good and too illustrative to resist.

The libraries are proud of their 800 year-old heritage, so proud in fact that they've retained many characteristics of those bygone days. E-journals? Forget it. If you're lucky, the library will tell you that journal isn't online. Then, two weeks later, you will accidentally stumble onto an online version of it through a random library link (there are countless search engines in the library and few of them cover all of the libraries in the colleges, departments and faculties). It will tell you that it has all of the editions from 1996 to 2001. However, upon searching for your article, conveniently published in 1997, you find that someone obviously didn't update the description on the site, because now the library only subscribes to 2000-2002. Fortunately, they have hard copies in the UL (University Library) -- but alas, you have to fill out a little slip requesting the edition you need and wait anywhere from 30 minutes to half an eon for them to unearth it from the catycombs in the basement. Then, when you finally think enough time has passed, you go up to the desk to pick it up, only to be told that someone came back hours earlier with a note saying that the entire volume is missing. Trust me, don't ever ask if they can look for it.

The stories go on and on -- we've all had that special library experience -- but none quite rivals the experiences of a grad school friend at the end of this term. She'd checked out a few new books from her department library and made sure to return them before the term finished (again, in adherence to tradition, late fines here also resemble medieval usury). Then, she left to visit her home for a couple of weeks. Upon her return, she discovered a Stern Letter in her pigeonhole (this being the birthplace of Stern Letters of academic varieties). It informed her that she'd damaged two books "beyond repair" and would have to pay roughly $100 before she could use the library again.

My friend is kind to books. She's kind to everything -- she's a sweet, good-natured person who goes out of her way to make everyone else happy, and who consequently is more than a bit bewildered by the accusation that she's destroyed a pair of books. So, she went down to the library to inquire about the problem. She asked that they show her the books, and the grim-faced librarian turned to the page in question to reveal...four light underlines in soft-lead pencil.

My friend looked at them for awhile as the librarian tut-tutted. Then, she unzipped her bag and pulled out an eraser. "But they aren't damaged beyond repair," she protested. "Look, I can get rid of those marks right now without even making the type fade." She reached for the book, but the librarian slammed it shut and whisked it away.

"They Are Damaged," she said, enunciating every word in outrage, "Beyond Repair. You cannot fix this! This cannot be fixed! You must pay the fine or appeal to the Library Board!"

The Library Board is probably part of the Syndicate. We aren't sure who they are, but they clearly have connections to all sorts of covert groups: "The Syndicate does not allow bags in the library." "All queries should be directed to the Syndicate." Fail to turn a book in on time? The Syndicate will get you. Pay those fines a day late? The Syndicate will throw you from the Bridge of Sighs to be consumed by rabid swans.

My friend wrote a three-page letter to the Board and the Syndicate, after paying the ridiculous fee so she could set foot in her library again. They are weighing her appeal...or fitting her for concrete shoes. Whichever seems easier.

1 comment:

kristy said...

I work in a libarary. When our books come back covered in spills, we all but apologize to the patron for our pesky book having gotten in the spill path of their coffee--or whatever.

There's got to be a happy medium, eh?